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The Stars, They Pale

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Emotion, yet peace:

His eyes are sunken but hard, and they pin Taeyong with a gravity that is unnatural for someone his age. Taeyong approaches him carefully. The boy remains still among the wreckage. For sheltering a separatist, the Republic had exacted swift vengeance upon his defenceless village.

The Jedi had arrived late. Smoke rises from the ruins of the razed houses.

“They’re gone,” the boy speaks.

“Yes,” Taeyong confirms. There is no point mincing his words, for surely, the child by now knows the fate of the people of his village, but he tries to gentle his tone for the little one’s sake. “You did well, hiding.”

“I did nothing,” and here, finally, cracks begin to show in his impassive mask. The boy hunches in on himself, his breathing turns harsh. “Nothing, while they burned my home to the ground.”

“You could do nothing,” he corrects instantly, sternly, reaching out to grasp the boy by the shoulders. The boy’s eyes speak of despair, a sorrow so deep it cuts. Taeyong understands loss, understands that death is a natural order of life, and has learned to put such emotion aside. But today, he grieves. “You are but a child.”

“So are you,” the boy counters, but he stares at the lightsaber hanging from Taeyong’s belt. “But you would’ve done something.”

There is nothing Taeyong can think to say to that, no wise words he can offer, so he keeps silent.

“Train me,” the boy says. It sounds like a command. His gaze turns inward for a moment, before he directs it back to Taeyong, determined.

Taeyong blinks, taken aback by the sureness in his tone. There’s a ripple within the Force, a nudging that feels significant. The boy will be strong, that he already knows. But Taeyong shakes his head. “No,” he says, for he senses within the child a volume of power that not even some of the Masters have. No, for the boy awakens emotions unfamiliar and tremulous within him, and Taeyong knows that if he were to stare down this chasm, he would surely lose his way.

“You would make me beg?” the boy asks, voice trembling. He gets down on his knees.

“Don’t,” Taeyong commands, sharp.

The boy flinches, freezing in place. He looks small, scared. Lost.

Taeyong sighs. The Force tugs at him, insistent. So he draws himself high, says, “A Padawan does not kneel.”

The boy straightens, mirroring Taeyong’s stance. He squares his shoulders, lifts his chin. A smile, however slight, makes its way onto his face. Like the sun breaking through the storm clouds of Naboo. “Yes, Master.”

 

Ignorance, yet knowledge:

“No, you may not go—no, it hasn’t yet been an hour—no, there isn’t anything else you should be doing.” Mark gapes at him with unadulterated disbelief, and Taeyong gives into a little smirk. “I am a Jedi, you know.”

“I’m bored,” his Padawan whines, shifting around in his lotus position. He puffs out a breath of air, flicking the hair from his eyes. “I hate meditating.”

“I am aware,” Taeyong replies archly. “Which is why you’ll sit here for an hour more.”

Taeyong tunes out Mark’s mutinous protesting, settling himself even deeper into the Force. About a minute later, he senses Mark give up on his grumbling, and fold himself still and compact. Taeyong reaches out to the flow of energy curling around him, and finds the hot flare that is his Padawan.

Gifted, the Council had concluded, the day they met him. Strong in the Force. There was resistance to his acceptance into the Academy. It was obvious Taeyong wasn’t the only one who could detect the roiling power and darkness within the boy.

“Let me train him,” Taeyong had insisted, unwilling to bear the idea of the boy being turned out, with no home to return to.

Eyebrows were raised at his request. Unorthodox, was the general consensus. And dangerous. But Yixing had smiled, and spoke, “You’ve chosen him then?”

He chose me, Taeyong couldn’t admit, only said, “Yes.”

After all, what does the Council know of the boy who had stared down death and destruction, and then packaged his anguish as a demand to be taught? Taught what, Taeyong has yet to decipher. He presumes Mark yearns for strength so as to never witness such a tragedy again. So he instructs the boy, nurtures his talent, all the while emphasizing that power is used only to protect those weaker than him. But sometimes, Taeyong watches Mark with a lightsaber, his movements swift and sure, his mind completely one with the weapon, his eyes cold and clear, and wonders.

“Your mind is drifting,” Mark interrupts. “Master, you’re bad at meditation too.”

Taeyong snaps his attention back to the room. The air is unnaturally still. It is strange for a Padawan to have been able to notice his distraction. “You’re projecting,” he tells Mark.

“No. You were distracted. I sensed it.”

Taeyong refrains from asking how; he knows Mark had just as easily picked out his signature in the Force as he did his. The bond between them grows stronger by the day.

“It’s easy, you know,” Mark continues quietly, wonder in his tone. “You’re so… bright. Everything else is muted when you’re there, Master. I see only you.”

“Don’t use me as an excuse for not being able to meditate, Padawan,” Taeyong chides, hiding the tremble in his voice. He turns away from Mark’s heavy gaze, and breathes deep to silence the beating of his heart.

 

Passion, yet serenity:

Even surrounded, Taeyong feels no fear. Mark is by his side. He isn’t ashamed to admit that in certain aspects of battle, his Padawan eclipses him by miles. When they’re cornered, or in ragged terrain, Mark is quicker, surer. Twenty-three, and already one of the best combatants they have.

Taeyong pushes out with the Force, and a line of battle droids collapses. Mark flies in through the opening, spearheading their attack, lightsaber flashing. He is a blur in the mess of machinery, cutting down the enemy with ruthless efficiency.

He is beautiful to watch.

After years of fighting alongside each other, they read each other easily. A stray blaster shot clips Taeyong in the shoulder, and Mark is beside him in an instant, eyes flashing furiously. His Padawan stretches an arm out, and the droid crumples like paper.

“Master,” Mark says urgently.

“I’m fine, carry on.” Around them it’s chaos, but Taeyong reaches out through the Force and stills the anger burning around the boy. “Control your emotions.”

“Yes,” Mark returns, clipped but calmer. He turns back on the army with a vengeance, and Taeyong follows, guarding his back.

When the dust settles, they emerge weary but victorious. The ground is littered with severed droid parts. Mark tips his head to him, an almost feral grin on his face. Unbidden, Taeyong curls a hand around the back of Mark’s neck, rubbing a thumb in slow, soothing circles. He waits until Mark’s smile melts into something softer, before turning and heading back to the jet.

He has a meeting with the Council tonight, to discuss his ascension from Knight to Master. Taeyong retreats to his room to freshen up.

Mark watches him closely as he binds his wounded shoulder, struggling to reach behind. “They have to give it to you,” Mark comments, brushing aside Taeyong’s hands and tying the bandages tight. His fingers skim the skin of Taeyong’s shoulder, sending a spark down his spine. “You’ve accomplished every single mission they sent you out on.”

“Because you were with me,” Taeyong reminds.

His Padawan flushes deep, and tries to hide it by shoving him out of the room. “Don’t be late for your own promotion,” he blurts out.

Taeyong knows the odds of the Council granting him rank, but in face of Mark’s enthusiasm, he goes anyway. He stands before the twelve most powerful Jedi, each regal and commanding in their own right. They look upon him with eyes wizened by war and time, and Taeyong struggles to not feel stripped bare. They sense his triumph from today’s battle, but they know his thoughts and sins.

So his face betrays no surprise when the Council delivers their verdict.

“They dishonour you,” Mark hisses, livid. “How could they?”

Taeyong shudders as a gust of wind swipes in from the window, because that’s what happens when Mark is angry: nature bends to his will. “Peace, Mark,” he implores. “They had every right.”

“They had none,” Mark thunders. In hopes to calm, Taeyong reaches for him as he did this morning, but Mark pushes him back with the Force, unrelenting. “You let them,” Mark starts, and stops to gather his thoughts into words that he might make Taeyong understand. Taeyong doesn’t understand, doesn’t understand the tears in his Padawan’s eyes, so he remains still with his head bowed as Mark yells, “You let them do this to you.” And then he shoulders brusquely past Taeyong and leaves the room.

Taeyong will find no rest in bed tonight, so he visits the quiet gardens beyond the academy. Control your emotions, he had instructed his Padawan in the fight this mere morning, but here he is, trying to keep from suffocating.

“I thought I might find you here.”

“Master Yixing,” Taeyong greets.

“For what it’s worth, I was in favour of your ascension.” Yixing pauses, smiles. “I still am.”

Taeyong ducks his head, heartened. “Thank you.”

“I am sorry.”

“Don’t be. I know why I was denied.” Yixing stiffens. “The Council fears I’m growing too attached.” He senses rather than sees Yixing’s shoulders dip, and knows for certain he’d been right. “They fear the bond I have with my Padawan.”

“I sensed his anger at our decision.”

“I couldn’t tell him why. I’m a coward.”

“You are braver than the rest of us,” the Jedi Master offers sadly, and Taeyong snaps his gaze to him. Yixing is renown through the galaxies for his prowess and skill; a legend whose name is whispered with reverence. Taeyong wonders who could have made him look as broken as he does now.

But their code forbids them to love, and Yixing must have made his choice. Taeyong already knows he will fail to measure up; he can’t stop, for he looks at Mark and sees the galaxy. He could never explain himself, how he stared down the chasm and willingly let himself fall. Instead, he lays down what he can. “I won’t let my feelings affect him. I won’t let this get in the way of our mission.” He has already broken the vows that govern his life; he will keep this oath to his death. But he hates how his voice trembles when he pleads, “Only tell me this, Master. Will it—will it get better?”

“You’ll receive no peace from my answer, Master Taeyong,” Yixing only says, soft.

Taeyong closes his eyes, and works to stifle the brutal ache in his chest. It’s about time he got some practice.

 

Chaos, yet harmony:

The attack on Coruscant takes them all by surprise. The Council deploys as many Jedi as they can spare, and yet, it is not enough. Clones and droids and beasts alike swarm them. Their forces thin; he’s separated from Mark.

In the pandemonium, they take him.

Taeyong feels a sharp tug in his chest, and suddenly, his Padawan’s pain and fear swarms his senses. He nearly drops his lightsaber.

“Mark,” he whispers, but there is a battle to be fought still.

Taeyong glares at the enemy surrounding him, a strange sensation creeping down his arms. It is not hatred, not exactly. It is anger, so hot it nearly cripples him. They are wasting his time. They are keeping him from Mark. Sparks gather at his fingertips, and Taeyong pushes out with a power he never knew he had, releasing a surge of electricity so deadly that the ground is left charred. The droids around him crackle and burst; every living thing in the radius falls dead.

Yixing hurries over, having felt the disturbance. He glances around at the carnage before him, shock evident on his face. Surely Taeyong will be exiled now, for only dark users of the Force could do what he has just done. He is unable to find the words to defend himself. But Yixing takes one look at him, only asks, “Your Padawan?”

“They have him,” Taeyong croaks. “They’ve left.”

“Go,” Yixing says gently. “I will… clean up here.”

Taeyong nods, knees almost weak with gratitude. He hurries to his jet, feeling desperately for Mark. He knows rationally it is impossible; pinpointing a location through the Force is not common practice. But he pulls, pulls as hard as he can on the tenuous string that links them both, searches through the mass of energy for the brightest spark that can only be Mark.

He’s calm when he straps himself into the pilot seat. His hands have stopped shaking. He knows where they’ve taken him. But he gives himself a moment to reach out through the Force, and send every emotion he has roiling in his gut forth. He doesn’t have the capacity to parse through each of them now. He doesn’t even know what some of them are. But the message is clear:

I’m coming.

 

Death, yet the Force:

In the end, it’s not so much a rescue mission as it is an execution. Taeyong strides in, cutting through any resistance with a singular focus. It becomes clear attempting to stop him is futile; the attacks eventually stop coming.

The guards have long abandoned their General, but he holds Mark before him as a shield. Taeyong barely registers the threats the deluded man makes, all he sees is the massive bruise on Mark’s face, how his head lolls backward at an awkward angle, the furrow in his forehead that speaks of pain. Taeyong reaches forth, finds the General’s life force, and squeezes.

The man drops Mark, hands coming up to claw at his throat. Taeyong only squeezes harder, spurred by the fury lighting up his bones and the desire to hurt and destroy. He will make the man pay for laying a finger on Mark. He will make all of them pay.

“Master,” comes Mark’s voice, weak. “Stop.”

Taeyong doesn’t listen.

“The code we follow,” his Padawan speaks again, desperate. “The code you so revere. Will you break it?”

Yes, Taeyong thinks, he will. He already has. Faced with the sins he’s already committed, the choking noises the General is making hardly compare.

“Taeyong,” Mark begs. “Please.” He stumbles across the floor to Taeyong, and grasps his hands. “Please.”

Taeyong lets go. He stands there, motionless, shaking in Mark’s arms. It’s ironic, how the Council was wary of Mark as a boy, when it turns out it’s been Taeyong who has walked far too close to the dark side all this time. How much anger is he capable of—how much death?

Mark takes his elbow gently. “Let’s go,” he murmurs, and Taeyong allows himself to be led back to the jet.

 

Mark tries to kiss him that night in the med bay. He ignores the bandages swathed around his torso, but pushes himself up when Taeyong enters to check on him, and cradles his face. Taeyong is too stunned to react for a moment, before he jerks back as if burned.

Mark sighs, posture defeated. “You would kill for me, but you would not kiss me?”

Taeyong remains silent. There is so much to say, and yet none of it would encompass the extent of his transgressions.

“You would make me beg?” Mark whispers. Unbidden, the image of the boy in the sands comes back to him. The boy who made himself his student a decade ago, the boy who now holds his world in his hands. Taeyong would render the skies apart for him, he would stare down a chasm and jump.

“Never,” Taeyong admits, and when Mark leans in this time, he lets him.